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Published by 09.7e.anupama, 2022-07-10 07:01:45

ugly love

ugly love

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For my two very best friends, who also happen to be my sisters, Lin
and Murphy

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chapter one

TATE

“Somebody stabbed you in the neck, young lady.”
My eyes widen, and I slowly turn toward the elderly gentleman

standing at my side. He presses the up button on the elevator and faces
me. He smiles and points to my neck.

“Your birthmark,” he says.
My hand instinctively goes up to my neck, and I touch the dime-
sized mark just below my ear.
“My grandfather used to say the placement of a birthmark was the
story of how a person lost the battle in their past life. I guess you got
stabbed in the neck. Bet it was a quick death, though.”
I smile, but I can’t tell if I should be afraid or entertained. Despite his
somewhat morbid opening conversation, he can’t be that dangerous.
His curved posture and shaky stance give away that he isn’t a day less
than eighty years old. He takes a few slow steps toward one of two
velvet red chairs that are positioned against the wall next to the elevator.
He grunts as he sinks into the chair and then looks up at me again.
“You going up to floor eighteen?”
My eyes narrow as I process his question. He somehow knows what
floor I’m going to, even though this is the first time I’ve ever set foot in
this apartment complex, and it’s definitely the first time I’ve ever laid
eyes on this man.

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“Yes, sir,” I say cautiously. “Do you work here?”
“I do indeed.”
He nods his head toward the elevator, and my eyes move to the
illuminated numbers overhead. Eleven floors to go before it arrives. I
pray it gets here quickly.
“I push the button for the elevator,” he says. “I don’t think there’s an
official title for my position, but I like to refer to myself as a flight
captain, considering I do send people as high as twenty stories up in the
air.”
I smile at his words, since my brother and father are both pilots.
“How long have you been flight captain of this elevator?” I ask as I wait.
I swear this is the slowest damn elevator I’ve ever encountered.
“Since I got too old to do maintenance on this building. Worked
here thirty-two years before I became captain. Been sending people on
flights now for more than fifteen years, I think. Owner gave me a pity
job to keep me busy till I died.” He smiles to himself. “What he didn’t
realize is that God gave me a lot of great things to accomplish in my

life, and right now, I’m so far behind I ain’t ever gonna die.”

I find myself laughing when the elevator doors finally open. I reach
down to grab the handle of my suitcase and turn to him one more time
before I step inside. “What’s your name?”

“Samuel, but call me Cap,” he says. “Everybody else does.”
“You got any birthmarks, Cap?”
He grins. “As a matter of fact, I do. Seems in my past life, I was shot
right in the ass. Must have bled out.”
I smile and bring my hand to my forehead, giving him a proper
captain’s salute. I step into the elevator and turn around to face the open
doors, admiring the extravagance of the lobby. This place seems more

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like a historic hotel than an apartment complex, with its expansive
columns and marble floors.

When Corbin said I could stay with him until I found a job, I had no
idea he lived like an actual adult. I thought it would be similar to the last
time I visited him, right after I graduated from high school, back when
he had first started working toward his pilot’s license. That was four
years and a two-story sketchy complex ago. That’s kind of what I was
expecting.

I certainly wasn’t anticipating a high-rise smack dab in the middle of
downtown San Francisco.

I find the panel and press the button for the eighteenth floor, then
look up at the mirrored wall of the elevator. I spent all day yesterday
and most of this morning packing up everything I own from my
apartment back in San Diego. Luckily, I don’t own much. But after
making the solo five-hundred-mile drive today, my exhaustion is pretty
evident in my reflection. My hair is in a loose knot on top of my head,
secured with a pencil, since I couldn’t find a hair tie while I was driving.
My eyes are usually as brown as my hazelnut hair, but right now, they
look ten shades darker, thanks to the bags under them.

I reach into my purse to find a tube of ChapStick, hoping to salvage
my lips before they end up as weary-looking as the rest of me. As soon
as the elevator doors begin to close, they open again. A guy is rushing
toward the elevators, preparing to walk on as he acknowledges the old
man. “Thanks, Cap,” he says.

I can’t see Cap from inside the elevator, but I hear him grunt
something in return. He doesn’t sound nearly as eager to make small
talk with this guy as he was with me. This man looks to be in his late
twenties at most. He grins at me, and I know exactly what’s going
through his mind, considering he just slid his left hand into his pocket.

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The hand with the wedding ring on it.
“Floor ten,” he says without looking away from me. His eyes fall to
what little cleavage is peeking out of my shirt, and then he looks at the

suitcase by my side. I press the button for floor ten. I should have worn a
sweater.

“Moving in?” he asks, blatantly staring at my shirt again.
I nod, although I doubt he notices, considering his gaze isn’t planted
anywhere near my face.
“What floor?”

Oh, no, you don’t. I reach beside me and cover all the buttons on the

panel with my hands to hide the illuminated eighteenth-floor button,
and then I press every single button between floors ten and eighteen.
He glances at the panel, confused.

“None of your business,” I say.
He laughs.
He thinks I’m kidding.
He arches his dark, thick eyebrow. It’s a nice eyebrow. It’s attached to
a nice face, which is attached to a nice head, which is attached to a nice
body.

A married body.

Asshole.
He grins seductively after seeing me check him out—only I wasn’t
checking him out the way he thinks I was. In my mind, I was wondering
how many times that body has been pressed against a girl who wasn’t his
wife.
I feel sorry for his wife.
He’s looking at my cleavage again when we reach floor ten. “I can
help you with that,” he says, nodding toward my suitcase. His voice is
nice. I wonder how many girls have fallen for that married voice. He

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walks toward me and reaches to the panel, bravely pressing the button
that closes the doors.

I hold his stare and press the button to open the doors. “I’ve got it.”
He nods as if he understands, but there’s still a wicked gleam in his
eyes that reaffirms my immediate dislike of him. He steps out of the
elevator and turns to face me before walking away.
“Catch you later, Tate,” he says, just as the doors close.
I frown, not comfortable with the fact that the only two people I’ve
interacted with since walking into this apartment building already know
who I am.
I remain alone on the elevator as it stops on every single floor until it
reaches the eighteenth. I step off, pull my phone out of my pocket, and
open up my messages to Corbin. I can’t remember which apartment
number he said was his. It’s either 1816 or 1814.
Maybe it’s 1826?
I come to a stop at 1814, because there’s a guy passed out on the floor
of the hallway, leaning against the door to 1816.

Please don’t let it be 1816.

I find the message on my phone and cringe. It’s 1816.

Of course it is.

I walk slowly to the door, hoping I don’t wake up the guy. His legs
are sprawled out in front of him, and he’s leaning with his back propped
up against Corbin’s door. His chin is tucked to his chest, and he’s
snoring.

“Excuse me,” I say, my voice just above a whisper.
He doesn’t move.
I lift my leg and poke his shoulder with my foot. “I need to get into
this apartment.”

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He rustles and then slowly opens his eyes and stares straight ahead at
my legs.

His eyes meet my knees, and his eyebrows furrow as he slowly leans
forward with a deep scowl on his face. He lifts a hand and pokes my
knee with his finger, almost as if he’s never seen a knee before. He drops
his hand, closes his eyes, and falls back asleep against the door.

Great.

Corbin won’t be back until tomorrow, so I dial his number to see if
this guy is someone I should be concerned about.

“Tate?” he asks, answering his phone without a hello.
“Yep,” I reply. “Made it safe, but I can’t get in because there’s a drunk
guy passed out at your front door. Suggestions?”
“Eighteen sixteen?” he asks. “You sure you’re at the right
apartment?”
“Positive.”
“Are you sure he’s drunk?”
“Positive.”
“Weird,” he says. “What’s he wearing?”
“Why do you want to know what he’s wearing?”
“If he’s wearing a pilot’s uniform, he probably lives in the building.
The complex contracts with our airline.”
This guy isn’t wearing any type of uniform, but I can’t help but
notice that his jeans and black T-shirt do fit him very nicely.
“No uniform,” I say.
“Can you get past him without waking him up?”
“I’d have to move him. He’ll fall inside if I open the door.”
He’s quiet for a few seconds while he thinks. “Go downstairs and ask
for Cap,” he says. “I told him you were coming tonight. He can wait
with you until you’re inside the apartment.”

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I sigh, because I’ve been driving for six hours, and going all the way
back downstairs is not something I feel like doing right now. I also sigh
because Cap is the last person who could probably help in this situation.

“Just stay on the phone with me until I’m inside your apartment.”
I like my plan a lot better. I balance my phone against my ear with
my shoulder and dig inside my purse for the key Corbin sent me. I
insert it into the lock and begin to open the door, but the drunk guy
begins to fall backward with every inch the door opens. He groans, but
his eyes don’t open again.
“It’s too bad he’s wasted,” I tell Corbin. “He’s not bad-looking.”
“Tate, just get your ass inside and lock the door so I can hang up.”
I roll my eyes. He’s still the same bossy brother he always was. I knew
that moving in with him would not be good for our relationship,
considering how fatherly he acted toward me when we were younger.
However, I had no time to find a job, get my own apartment, and get
settled before my new classes started, so it left me with little choice.
I’m hoping things will be different between us now, though. Corbin
is twenty-five, and I’m twenty-three, so if we can’t get along better than
we did as kids, we’ve got a lot of growing up left to do.
I guess that mostly depends on Corbin and whether he’s changed
since we last lived together. He had an issue with anyone I dated, all of
my friends, every choice I made—even what college I wanted to attend.
Not that I ever paid any attention to his opinion, though. The distance
and time apart has seemed to get him off my back for the last few years,
but moving in with him will be the ultimate test of our patience.
I wrap my purse around my shoulder, but it gets caught on my
suitcase handle, so I just let it fall to the floor. I keep my left hand
wrapped tightly around the doorknob and hold the door shut so the guy

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won’t fall completely into the apartment. I take my foot and press it
against his shoulder, pushing him from the center of the doorway.

He doesn’t budge.
“Corbin, he’s too heavy. I’m gonna have to hang up so I can use both
hands.”
“No, don’t hang up. Just put the phone in your pocket, but don’t
hang up.”
I look down at the oversized shirt and leggings I have on. “No
pockets. You’re going in the bra.”
Corbin makes a gagging sound as I pull the phone from my ear and
shove it inside my bra. I remove the key from the lock and drop it
toward my purse, but it misses and falls to the floor. I reach down to
grab the drunk guy so I can move him out of the way.
“All right, buddy,” I say, struggling to pull him away from the center
of the doorway. “Sorry to interrupt your nap, but I need inside this
apartment.”
I somehow manage to prop him up against the doorframe to prevent
him from falling into the apartment, and then I push the door open
farther and turn to get my things.
Something warm wraps around my ankle.
I freeze.
I look down.
“Let go of me!” I yell, kicking at the hand that’s gripping my ankle so
tightly I’m pretty sure it might bruise. The drunk guy is looking up at
me now, and his grip sends me falling backward into the apartment
when I try to pull away from him.
“I need to get in there,” he mutters, just as my butt meets the floor.
He makes an attempt to push the apartment door open with his other
hand, and this immediately sends me into panic mode. I pull my legs the

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rest of the way inside, and his hand comes with me. I use my free leg to
kick the door shut, slamming it directly onto his wrist.

“Shit!” he yells. He’s trying to pull his hand back into the hallway
with him, but my foot is still pressing against the door. I release enough
pressure for him to have his hand back, and then I immediately kick the
door all the way shut. I pull myself up and lock the door, the dead bolt,
and the chain lock as quickly as I can.

As soon as my heart rate begins to calm down, it starts to scream at
me.

My heart is actually screaming at me.
In a deep male voice.
It sounds like it’s yelling, “Tate! Tate!”

Corbin.

I immediately look down at my chest and pull my phone out of my
bra, then bring it up to my ear.

“Tate! Answer me!”
I wince, then pull the phone several inches from my ear. “I’m fine,” I
say, out of breath. “I’m inside. I locked the door.”
“Jesus Christ!” he says, relieved. “You scared me to death. What the
hell happened?”
“He was trying to get inside. I locked the door, though.” I flip on the
living-room light and take no more than three steps inside before I
come to a halt.

Good going, Tate.

I slowly turn back toward the door after realizing what I’ve done.
“Um. Corbin?” I pause. “I might have left a few things outside that I
need. I would just grab them, but the drunk guy thinks he needs to get
inside your apartment for some reason, so there’s no way I’m opening
that door again. Any suggestions?”

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He’s silent for a few seconds. “What did you leave in the hallway?”
I don’t want to answer him, but I do. “My suitcase.”
“Christ, Tate,” he mutters.
“And . . . my purse.”

“Why the hell is your purse outside?”

“I might have also left the key to your apartment on the hallway
floor.”

He doesn’t even respond to that one. He just groans. “I’ll call Miles
and see if he’s home yet. Give me two minutes.”

“Wait. Who’s Miles?”
“He lives across the hall. Whatever you do, don’t open the door
again until I call you back.”
Corbin hangs up, and I lean against his front door.
I’ve lived in San Francisco all of thirty minutes, and I’m already
being a pain in his ass. Figures. I’ll be lucky if he lets me stay here until
I find a job. I hope that doesn’t take long, considering I applied for three
RN positions at the closest hospital. It might mean working nights,
weekends, or both, but I’ll take what I can get if it prevents me from
having to dip into savings while I’m back in school.
My phone rings. I slide my thumb across the screen and answer it.
“Hey.”
“Tate?”
“Yep,” I reply, wondering why he always double-checks to see if it’s

me. He called me, so who else would be answering it who sounds exactly

like me?
“I got hold of Miles.”
“Good. Is he gonna help me get my stuff?”
“Not exactly,” Corbin says. “I kind of need you to do me a huge

favor.”

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My head falls against the door again. I have a feeling the next few
months are going to be full of inconvenient favors, since he knows he’s
doing me a huge one by letting me stay here. Dishes? Check. Corbin’s
laundry? Check. Corbin’s grocery shopping? Check.

“What do you need?” I ask him.
“Miles kind of needs your help.”
“The neighbor?” I pause as soon as it clicks, and I close my eyes.
“Corbin, please don’t tell me the guy you called to protect me from the

drunk guy is the drunk guy.”

Corbin sighs. “I need you to unlock the door and let him in. Let him
crash on the couch. I’ll be there first thing in the morning. When he
sobers up, he’ll know where he is, and he’ll go straight home.”

I shake my head. “What kind of apartment complex are you living in?
Do I need to prepare to be groped by drunk people every time I come
home?”

Long pause. “He groped you?”
“ ‘Grope’ might be a bit strong. He did grab my ankle, though.”
Corbin lets out a sigh. “Just do this for me, Tate. Call me back when
you’ve got him and all your stuff inside.”
“Fine.” I groan, recognizing the worry in his voice.
I hang up with Corbin and open the door. The drunk guy falls onto
his shoulder, and his cell phone slips from his hand and lands on the
floor next to his head. I flip him onto his back and look down at him.
He cracks his eyes open and attempts to look up at me, but his eyelids
fall shut again.
“You’re not Corbin,” he mutters.
“No. I’m not. But I am your new neighbor, and from the looks of it,
you’re about to owe me at least fifty cups of sugar.”

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I lift him by his shoulders and try to get him to sit up, but he doesn’t.
I don’t think he can, actually. How does a person even get this drunk?

I grab his hands and pull him inch by inch into the apartment,
stopping when he’s just far enough inside for me to be able to close the
door. I retrieve all of my things from outside the apartment, then shut
and lock the front door. I grab a throw pillow from the couch, prop his
head up, and roll him onto his side in case he pukes in his sleep.

And that’s all the help he’s getting from me.
When he’s comfortably asleep in the middle of the living-room floor,
I leave him there while I look around the apartment.
The living room alone could fit three of the living rooms from
Corbin’s last apartment. The dining area is open to the living room, but
the kitchen is separated from the living room by a half-wall. There are
several modern paintings throughout the room, and the thick, plush
sofas are a light tan, offsetting the vibrant paintings. The last time I
stayed with him, he had a futon, a beanbag chair, and posters of models
on the walls.
I think my brother might finally be growing up.
“Very impressive, Corbin,” I say out loud as I walk from room to
room and flip on all the lights, inspecting what has just become my
temporary home. I kind of hate that it’s so nice. It’ll make it harder to
want to find my own place once I get enough money saved up.
I walk into the kitchen and open the refrigerator. There’s a row of
condiments in the door, a box of leftover pizza on the middle shelf, and
a completely empty gallon of milk still sitting on the top shelf.
Of course he doesn’t have groceries. I can’t have expected him to

change completely.

I grab a bottled water and exit the kitchen to go search for the room
I’ll be living in for the next few months. There are two bedrooms, so I

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take the one that isn’t Corbin’s and set my suitcase on top of the bed. I
have about three more suitcases and at least six boxes down in the car,
not to mention all my clothes on hangers, but I’m not about to attempt
those tonight. Corbin said he’d be back in the morning, so I’ll leave that
to him.

I change into a pair of sweats and a tank top, then brush my teeth
and get ready for bed. Normally, I would be nervous about the fact that
there’s a stranger in the same apartment I’m in, but I have a feeling I
don’t need to worry. Corbin would never ask me to help someone he
felt might be a threat to me in any way. Which confuses me, because if
this is common behavior for Miles, I’m surprised Corbin asked me to
bring him inside.

Corbin has never trusted guys with me, and I blame Blake for that.
He was my first serious boyfriend when I was fifteen, and he was
Corbin’s best friend. Blake was seventeen, and I had a huge crush on
him for months. Of course, my friends and I had huge crushes on most
of Corbin’s friends, simply because they were older than we were.

Blake would come over most weekends to stay the night with Corbin,
and we always seemed to find a way to spend time together when
Corbin wasn’t paying attention. One thing led to another, and after
several weekends of sneaking around, Blake told me he wanted to make
our relationship official. The problem Blake didn’t foresee was how
Corbin would react once Blake broke my heart.

And boy, did he break it. As much as a fifteen-year-old heart can be
broken after the span of a two-week secret relationship. Turned out he
was officially dating quite a few girls during the two weeks he was with
me. Once Corbin found out, their friendship was over, and all of
Corbin’s friends were warned not to come near me. I found it almost
impossible to date in high school until after Corbin finally moved away.

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Even then, though, the guys had heard horror stories and tended to
steer clear of Corbin’s little sister.

As much as I hated it then, I would more than welcome it now. I’ve
had my fair share of relationships go wrong since high school. I lived
with my most recent boyfriend for more than a year before we realized
we wanted two separate things out of life. He wanted me home. I
wanted a career.

So now I’m here. Pursuing my master’s degree in nursing and doing
whatever I can to avoid relationships. Maybe living with Corbin won’t
be such a bad thing after all.

I head back to the living room to turn out the lights, but when I’ve
rounded the corner, I come to an immediate halt.

Not only is Miles up off the floor, but he’s in the kitchen, with his
head pressed against his arms and his arms folded on top of the kitchen
counter. He’s seated on the edge of a bar stool, and he looks as if he’s
about to fall off it any second. I can’t tell if he’s sleeping again or just
attempting to recover.

“Miles?”
He doesn’t move when I call his name, so I walk toward him and
gently lay my hand on his shoulder to shake him awake. The second my
fingers squeeze his shoulder, he gasps and sits up straight as if I just
woke him from the middle of a dream.
Or a nightmare.
Immediately, he slides off the stool and onto very unstable legs. He
begins to sway, so I throw his arm over my shoulder and try to walk him
out of the kitchen.
“Let’s go to the couch, buddy.”
He drops his forehead to the side of my head and stumbles along
with me, making it even harder to hold him up. “My name isn’t Buddy,”

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he slurs. “It’s Miles.”
We make it to the front of the couch, and I start to peel him off me.

“Okay, Miles. Whoever you are. Just go to sleep.”
He falls onto the couch, but he doesn’t let go of my shoulders. I fall

with him and immediately attempt to pull away.
“Rachel, don’t,” he begs, grabbing me by the arm, trying to pull me

to the couch with him.
“My name isn’t Rachel,” I say, freeing myself from his iron grip. “It’s

Tate.” I don’t know why I clarify what my name is, because it’s not likely
he’ll remember this conversation tomorrow. I walk to where the throw
pillow is and pick it up off the floor.

I pause before handing it back to him, because he’s on his side now,
and his face is pressed into the couch cushion. He’s gripping the couch
so tightly his knuckles are white. At first, I think he’s about to get sick,
but then I realize how incredibly wrong I am.

He’s not sick.
He’s crying.

Hard.
So hard he isn’t even making a sound.
I don’t even know the guy, but the obvious devastation he’s
experiencing is difficult to witness. I look down the hallway and back to
him, wondering if I should leave him alone in order to give him privacy.
The last thing I want to do is get tangled up in someone’s issues. I’ve
successfully avoided most forms of drama in my circle of friends up to
this point, and I sure as hell don’t want to start now. My first instinct is
to walk away, but for some reason, I find myself oddly sympathetic
toward him. His pain actually appears genuine and not just the result of
an overconsumption of alcohol.

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I lower myself to my knees in front of him and touch his shoulder.
“Miles?”

He inhales a huge breath, slowly lifting his face to look at me. His
eyes are mere slits and bloodshot red. I’m not sure if that’s a result of
the crying or the alcohol. “I’m so sorry, Rachel,” he says, lifting a hand
out toward me. He wraps it around the back of my neck and pulls me
forward toward him, burying his face in the crevice between my neck

and shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”

I have no idea who Rachel is or what he did to her, but if he’s hurting

this bad, I shudder to think what she’s feeling. I’m tempted to find his

phone and search for her name and call her so she can come rectify this.
Instead, I gently push him back into the couch. I lay his pillow down
and urge him onto it. “Go to sleep, Miles,” I say gently.

His eyes are so full of hurt when he drops to the pillow. “You hate me
so much,” he says as he grabs my hand. His eyes fall shut again, and he
releases a heavy sigh.

I stare at him silently, allowing him to keep hold of my hand until
he’s quiet and still and there aren’t any more tears. I pull my hand away
from his, but I stay by his side for a few minutes longer.

Even though he’s asleep, he somehow still looks as if he’s in a world
of pain. His eyebrows are furrowed, and his breathing is sporadic,
failing to fall into a peaceful pattern.

For the first time, I notice a faint, jagged scar, about four inches long,
that runs smoothly across the entire right side of his jaw. It stops just
two inches shy of his lips. I have the strange urge to touch it and run my
finger down the length of it, but instead, my hand reaches up to his hair.
It’s short on the sides, a little longer on the top, and just the perfect
blend of brown and blond. I stroke his hair, comforting him, even
though he may not deserve it.

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This guy may deserve every single bit of the remorse he’s feeling for
whatever he did to Rachel, but at least he’s feeling it. I have to give him
that much.

Whatever he did to Rachel, at least he loves her enough to regret it.

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chapter two

MILES

Six years earlier

I open the door to the administration office and walk the roll sheet to
the secretary’s desk. Before I turn and head back to class, she stops me
with a question. “You’re in Mr. Clayton’s senior English class, aren’t
you, Miles?”

“Yep,” I reply to Mrs. Borden. “Need me to take something to him?”
The phone on her desk rings, and she nods, picking up the receiver.
She covers it with her hand. “Wait around another minute or two,” she
says, nodding her head in the direction of the principal’s office. “We’ve
got a new student who just enrolled, and she also has Mr. Clayton this
period. I need you to show her to the classroom.”
I agree and plop down into one of the chairs next to the door. I look
around the administration office and realize this is the first time in the
four years I’ve been in high school that I’ve ever sat in one of these
seats. Which means I’ve successfully made it four years without being
sent to the office.
My mother would have been proud to know that, although it leaves
me kind of disappointed in myself. Detention is something every male
in high school should accomplish at least once. I have the rest of my
senior year to achieve it, though, so there’s that to look forward to.

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I retrieve my phone from my pocket, secretly hoping Mrs. Borden
sees me with it and decides to slap me with a detention slip. When I
look up at her, she’s still on the phone, but she makes eye contact with
me. She simply smiles and goes about her secretarial duties.

I shake my head in disappointment and open up a text to Ian. It
doesn’t take much to excite people around here. Nothing new ever
happens.

Me: New girl enrolled today. Senior.
Ian: Is she hot?
Me: Haven’t seen her yet. About to walk her to class.
Ian: Take a picture if she’s hot.
Me: Will do. BTW, how many times have you had detention this year?
Ian: Twice. Why? What’d you do?

Twice? Yeah, I need to rebel it up a little before graduation. I should

definitely turn in some homework late this year.
I’m pathetic.
The door to the principal’s office opens, so I close my phone. I slide

it into my pocket and look up.
I never want to look down again.
“Miles is going to show you the way to Mr. Clayton’s class, Rachel.”

Mrs. Borden points Rachel in my direction, and she begins to walk
toward me.

I instantly become aware of my legs and their inability to stand.
My mouth forgets how to speak.
My arms forget how to reach out to introduce the person they’re
attached to.
My heart forgets to wait and get to know a girl before it starts to claw
its way out of my chest to get to her.
Rachel.

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Rachel.
Rachel, Rachel, Rachel.
She’s like poetry.
Like prose and love letters and lyrics, cascading down
the
center
of
a
page.

Rachel, Rachel, Rachel.

I say her name over and over in my head, because I’m positive it’s the
name of the next girl I’ll fall in love with.

I’m suddenly standing. Walking toward her. I might be smiling,
pretending I’m not affected by those green eyes that I hope will one day

be smiling just for me. Or that red-as-my-heart hair that doesn’t look
like it’s been tampered with since God created it specifically with her in

mind.
I’m talking to her.
I tell her my name is Miles.
I tell her she can follow me and I’ll show her the way to Mr. Clayton’s

class.
I’m staring at her because she hasn’t spoken yet, but her nod is the

nicest thing a girl has ever said to me.
I ask her where she’s from, and she tells me Arizona. “Phoenix,” she

specifies.
I don’t ask her what brought her to California, but I do tell her my
father does business in Phoenix a lot because he owns a few buildings

there.
She smiles.

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I tell her I’ve never been there but I’d like to go one day.
She smiles again.

I think she says it’s a nice town, but it’s hard to understand her words
when all I hear in my head is her name.
Rachel.

I’m gonna fall in love with you, Rachel.

Her smile makes me want to keep talking, so I ask her another question
as we pass Mr. Clayton’s room.
We keep walking.

She keeps talking, because I keep asking her questions.
She nods some.

She answers some.
She sings some.

Or it sounds that way.
We get to the end of the hallway, right when she says something about
how she hopes she likes this school because she wasn’t ready to move

away from Phoenix.
She doesn’t look happy about the move.
She doesn’t know how happy I am about the move.
“Where’s Mr. Clayton’s classroom?” she asks.
I stare at the mouth that just delivered that question. Her lips aren’t
symmetrical. Her top lip is slightly thinner than her bottom lip, but you
can’t tell until she talks. When words come out of her mouth, it makes
me wonder why words are so much better coming from her mouth than

any other mouth.

And her eyes. There’s no way her eyes aren’t seeing a prettier, more

peaceful world than all the other eyes.
I stare at her for a few more seconds; then I point behind me and tell

her we passed Mr. Clayton’s classroom.

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Her cheeks grow a shade pinker, like my confession affected her in the
same way she’s affecting me.
I smile again.

I nod my head toward Mr. Clayton’s class.
We walk in that direction.

Rachel.
You’re gonna fall in love with me, Rachel.

I open the door for her and let Mr. Clayton know that Rachel is new
here. I also want to add, for the sake of all the other guys in the
classroom, that Rachel is not theirs.

She’s mine.

But I don’t say anything.
I don’t have to, because the only one who needs to be aware that I want

Rachel is Rachel.

She looks at me and smiles again, taking the only empty seat, all the way
across the room.

Her eyes tell me she already knows she’s mine.
It’s just a matter of time.

I want to text Ian and tell her she isn’t hot. I want to tell him she’s
volcanic, but he would laugh at that.

Instead, I discreetly take a picture of her from where I’m seated.
I send the picture in a message to Ian that says, “She’s gonna have all my

babies.”
Mr. Clayton begins class.
Miles Archer becomes obsessed.

•••

I met Rachel on Monday.
It’s Friday.

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I’ve said nothing to her since the day we met. I don’t know why. We
have three classes together. Every time I see her, she smiles at me like
she wants me to talk to her. Every time I work up the courage, I talk

myself down.
I used to be confident.
Then Rachel happened.
I gave myself until today. If I didn’t work up the courage by today, I’d be
giving up my only shot with her. Girls like Rachel aren’t available for

long.
If she’s even available.
I don’t know her story or if she’s wrapped up in a guy back in Phoenix,
but there’s only one way to find out.
I’m standing next to her locker, waiting for her. She exits the classroom
and smiles at me. I say “Hi” when she walks up to her locker. I notice
that same subtle change in her skin color. I like that.
I ask how her first week was. She tells me it was fine. I ask her if she’s
made any friends, and she shrugs as she says, “A few.”

I smell her, subtly.
She notices anyway.
I tell her she smells good.
She says, “Thank you.”
I push through the sound of my heart pounding in my ears. I push past
the sheen of moisture developing on my palms. I drown out her name,
which I keep wanting to repeat out loud, over and over. I push it all
down and hold her stare while I ask her if she’d like to do something

later.
I keep it all pushed away and make room for her response, because it’s

the only thing I want.

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I want that nod, actually. The one that doesn’t require words? Just a
smile?

I don’t get her nod.
She has plans tonight.
It all comes back tenfold, spilling over like a flood and I’m the dam. The
pounding, the sweaty palms, her name, a newfound insecurity I never
knew existed, burying itself in my chest. All of it takes over and feels like
it’s building a wall around her.
“I’m not busy tomorrow, though,” she says, obliterating the wall with

her words.
I make room for those words. Lots of room. I let them invade me. I
soak those words up like a sponge. I pluck them out of the air and

swallow them.
“Tomorrow works for me,” I say. I pull my phone out of my pocket, not
even bothering to hide my smile. “What’s your number? I’ll call you.”

She tells me her number.
She’s excited.

She’s excited.

I save her contact in my phone, knowing it’ll be there for a long, long
time.

And I’m gonna use it.
A lot.

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chapter three

TATE

Normally, if I were to wake up, open my eyes, and see an angry man
staring me down from a bedroom doorway, I might scream. I might
throw things. I might run to the bathroom and lock myself inside.

I don’t do any of these things, though.
I stare back, because I’m confused about how this is the same guy
who was passed out drunk in the hallway. How is this the same guy who
cried himself to sleep last night?
This guy is intimidating. This guy is angry. This guy is watching me
like I should be giving him an apology or explaining myself.
It is the same guy, though, because he’s wearing the same pair of
jeans and the same black T-shirt he fell asleep in last night. The only
difference in his appearance between last night and this morning is that
he’s now able to stand up without assistance.
“What happened to my hand, Tate?”
He knows my name. Does he know it because Corbin told him I was
moving in or because he actually remembers my telling him last night?
I’m hoping Corbin told him, because I don’t really want him to
remember last night. I suddenly feel embarrassed that he might recall
my consoling him while he cried himself to sleep.
He apparently doesn’t have a clue what happened to his hand,
though, so I hope that means he has no recollection of anything beyond

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that.
He’s leaning against my bedroom door with his arms folded across

his chest. He looks defensive, like I’m the one responsible for his bad
night. I roll over, still not quite finished with sleeping, even though he
thinks I owe him some sort of explanation. I pull the covers over my
head.

“Lock the front door on your way out,” I say, hoping he’ll take the
hint that he is more than welcome to go back to his place now.

“Where’s my phone?”
I squeeze my eyes shut and try to drown out the smooth sound of his
voice as it slides into my ears and makes its way through every nerve in
my body, warming me in places this flimsy blanket failed to do all night.
I remind myself that the person that sultry voice belongs to is now
standing in the doorway, rudely demanding things without even
acknowledging the fact that I helped him last night. I’d like to know

where my Thank you is. Or my Hey, I’m Miles. Nice to meet you.

I get none of that from this guy. He’s too worried about his hand.
And his phone, apparently. Too worried about himself to be concerned
about how many people his carelessness might have inconvenienced last
night. If this guy and his attitude are going to be my neighbors for the
next few months, I’d better set him straight now.

I toss the covers off and stand up, then walk to the door and meet his
gaze. “Do me a favor and take a step back.”

Surprisingly, he does. I keep my eyes locked with his until the
bedroom door slams in his face and I’m looking at the back of the door.
I smile and walk back to my bed. I lie down and pull the covers over my
head.

I win.

Have I mentioned I’m not much of a morning person?

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The door opens again.

Flies open.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” he yells.
I groan, then sit up on the bed and look at him. He’s standing in the
doorway once again, still looking at me like I owe him something.

“You!” I yell back.

He looks genuinely shocked at my harsh response, which kind of

makes me feel bad. But he’s the one being the jerk!
I think.

He started it.

I think.

He eyes me hard for a few seconds, then tilts his head slightly
forward and arches an eyebrow.

“Did we . . .” He motions his finger back and forth between us. “Did
we hook up last night? Is that why you’re pissed?”

I laugh when my initial thoughts are confirmed.

He’s being the jerk.

And this is great. I’m neighbors with a guy who gets shit-faced on
weeknights and obviously brings home so many girls in the process that
he can’t even remember which ones he messed around with.

I open my mouth to respond but am cut off by the sound of the
apartment door closing and Corbin’s voice yelling out.

“Tate?”
I immediately jump up and rush to the door, but Miles is still
blocking the doorway, glaring at me, expecting a response to his
question. I look him straight in the eyes to give him an answer, but his
eyes catch me off guard for a short moment.
They are the clearest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. Not at all the heavy-
lidded, bloodshot eyes from last night. His eyes are so light blue they’re

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almost colorless. I continue to stare at them, half expecting to see waves
if I look closely enough. I’d say they were as clear blue as the waters of
the Caribbean, but I’ve never actually been to the Caribbean, so I
wouldn’t know.

He blinks, and it immediately pulls me away from the Caribbean and
back to San Francisco. Back to this bedroom. Back to the last question
he asked before Corbin walked through the front door.

“Not sure if you can call what we did hooking up,” I whisper.

I stare at him, waiting for him to move out of my way.
He stands taller, putting up an invisible wall of armor with his
posture and his rigid body language.
Apparently, he doesn’t like to envision the two of us making out,
based on the unyielding look he’s giving me. It almost seems like he’s
looking at me in disgust, which makes me dislike him that much more.
I don’t back down, and neither of us breaks eye contact when he steps
out of my way and allows me to pass him. Corbin is rounding the
hallway when I exit my room. He glances back and forth between me
and Miles, so I quickly shoot him a look to let him know that’s not even
remotely a possibility.
“Hey, Sis,” he says, pulling me in for a hug.
I haven’t seen him in almost six months. Sometimes it’s easy to forget
how much you miss people until you see them again. That’s not the case
with Corbin. I always miss him. As much as his protectiveness can get
old at times, it’s also a testament to how close we are.
Corbin releases me and pulls at a lock of my hair. “It’s longer,” he
says. “I like it.”
This may be the longest we’ve gone without seeing each other. I
reach up and flick the hair hanging across his forehead. “So is yours,” I

say. “And I don’t like it.”

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I smile to let him know I’m kidding. I actually like the shaggier look
on him. People have always said we look a lot alike, but I don’t see it.
His skin is a lot darker than mine, which I’ve always envied. Our hair is
the same rich hue of brown, but our facial features are nothing alike,
specifically our eyes. Mom used to tell us that if we put our eyes
together, they would look just like a tree. His were as green as the
leaves, and mine were as brown as the trunk.

I always envied that he got to be the leaves of the tree, because green
was my favorite color growing up.

Corbin acknowledges Miles with a nod of his head. “Hey, man.
Rough night?” He asks the question with a laugh, as he knows exactly
what kind of night Miles had last night.

Miles walks past both of us. “I don’t know,” he says in response. “I
don’t remember it.” He walks into the kitchen and opens a cabinet,
retrieving a cup like he’s comfortable enough here to do so.

I don’t like that.
I don’t like comfortable Miles.
Comfortable Miles opens another cabinet and takes out a bottle of
aspirin, fills his cup with water, and pops two of the aspirin into his
mouth.
“Did you get all your stuff brought up?” Corbin asks me.
“Nope,” I say, glancing at Miles when I respond. “I was kind of
preoccupied with your neighbor most of the night.”
Miles nervously clears his throat as he washes the glass and places it
back in the cabinet. His discomfort with his lapse in memory makes me
laugh. I like that he has no idea what happened last night. I even kind of
like that the thought of being with me seems to unnerve him. I might
keep this façade going for a while for my own sick enjoyment.

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Corbin looks at me as if he knows what I’m trying to pull. Miles steps
out of the kitchen and glances my way, then looks back to Corbin.

“I would have gone back to my place by now, but I can’t find my
keys. You have my spare set?”

Corbin nods and walks to a drawer in the kitchen. He opens it, grabs
a key, and tosses it to Miles, who catches it in midair. “Can you come
back in an hour and help me unload Tate’s car? I want to shower first.”

Miles nods, but his eyes cut briefly to mine as Corbin starts walking
to his bedroom.

“We’ll catch up when it’s not too morning,” Corbin tells me.
It may have been seven years since we’ve lived together, but he
apparently remembers I’m not much of a talker in the morning. Too
bad Miles doesn’t know this about me.
After Corbin disappears into his bedroom, I turn and face Miles
again. He’s already looking at me expectantly, like he’s still waiting for
me to answer whatever questions he asked me earlier. I just want him to
leave, so I answer them all at once.
“You were passed out in the hallway last night when I got here. I
didn’t know who you were, so when you tried to get inside the
apartment, I might have slammed the door on your hand. It’s not
broken. I checked it out, and it’s bruised at best. Just put some ice on it
and wrap it for a few hours. And no, we didn’t hook up. I helped you
into the apartment, and then I went to bed. Your phone is on the floor
by the front door where you dropped it last night because you were too
shit-faced to walk.”
I turn to head to my room, just wanting to get away from the
intensity in his eyes.
I spin around when I reach my bedroom door. “When you come
back in an hour and I’ve had a chance to wake up, we can try this again.”

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His jaw is firm. “Try what again?” he asks.

“Getting off on the right foot.”
I close my bedroom door, putting up a barrier between me and that
voice.

That stare.

•••

“How many boxes do you have?” Corbin asks. He’s slipping on his
shoes by the door. I grab my keys off the bar.

“Six, plus three suitcases and all my clothes on hangers.”
Corbin walks to the door directly across the hall and bangs on it,
then turns and heads toward the elevators. He pushes the down button.
“Did you tell Mom you made it?”
“Yeah, I texted her last night.”
I hear his apartment door open just as the elevator arrives, but I don’t
turn to watch him walk out of it. I step in, and Corbin holds the elevator
for Miles.
As soon as he comes into view, I lose the war. The war I didn’t even
know I was fighting. It doesn’t happen often, but when I do find a guy

attractive, it’s better when it happens with a person I want it to happen

with.
Miles is not the person I want to be feeling this for. I don’t want to

be attracted to a guy who drinks himself into oblivion, cries over other
girls, and can’t even remember if he screwed you the night before. But
it’s hard not to notice his presence when his presence becomes
everything.

“Should just be two trips,” Corbin says to Miles as he presses the
button for the ground floor.

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Miles is staring at me, and I can’t quite judge his demeanor, because
he still looks pissed. I stare back, because no matter how good-looking

he may be with that attitude, I’m still waiting for the thank you I never

got.
“Hi,” Miles finally says. He steps forward and completely ignores

unspoken elevator etiquette by stepping too close and holding out his
hand. “Miles Archer. I live across the hall from you.”

And I’m confused.

“I think we’ve established that,” I say, looking down at his
outstretched hand.

“Starting over,” he says, arching a brow. “On the right foot?”
Ah. Yes. I did tell him that.
I take his hand and shake it. “Tate Collins. I’m Corbin’s sister.”
The way he steps back and keeps his eyes locked with mine makes me
a little uncomfortable, since Corbin is standing only a foot away. Corbin
doesn’t seem to care, though. He’s ignoring both of us, preoccupied
with his phone.
Miles finally breaks his stare and pulls his phone out of his pocket. I
take the opportunity to study him while his attention is off of me.
I come to the conclusion that his appearance is completely
contradictory. It’s as if two different creators were at war when he was
envisioned. The strength in his bone structure contrasts with the soft,
inviting appeal of his lips. They seem harmless and welcoming
compared with the harshness in his features and the jagged scar that
runs the length of the right side of his jaw.
His hair can’t decide if it wants to be brown or blond or wavy or
straight. His personality flips between inviting and callously indifferent,
muddling my ability to discern hot from cold. His casual posture is at
war with the fierceness I’ve seen in his eyes. His composure this

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morning contradicts his inebriated state from last night. His eyes can’t
decide if they want to look at his phone or at me, because they waver
back and forth several times before the elevator doors open.

I stop staring and step off the elevator first. Cap is seated in his chair,
ever so vigilant. He glances at the three of us exiting the elevator and
pushes up on the arms of his chair, coming to a slow, shaky stand.
Corbin and Miles both nod at him and continue walking.

“How was your first night, Tate?” he asks with a smile, stopping me
midstride. The fact that he already knows my name doesn’t surprise me,
since he knew what floor I was going to last night.

I look at the back of Miles’s head as they continue without me. “Kind
of eventful, actually. I think my brother might have made a poor choice
in the company he keeps.”

I look at Cap, and he’s staring at Miles now, too. His wrinkle-lined
lips purse into a thin line, and he gives a slight shake of his head. “Ah,
that boy probably can’t help it none,” he says, dismissing my comment.

I’m not sure if he’s referring to Corbin or Miles when he says “that
boy,” but I don’t ask.

Cap turns away from me and begins shuffling in the direction of the
lobby restrooms. “I think I just pissed on myself,” he mutters.

I watch him disappear through the restroom door, wondering at what
point in a person’s life he becomes old enough to lose his filter.

Although Cap doesn’t seem like the type of man who ever even had a

filter. I kind of like that about him.
“Tate, let’s go!” Corbin yells from the far end of the lobby. I catch up

with them to show them the way to my car.
It takes three trips to get all my things up, not two.
Three entire trips where Miles doesn’t speak another word to me.

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chapter four

MILES

Six years earlier

Dad: “Where are you?”
Me: “Ian’s house.”
Dad: “We need to talk.”
Me: “Can it wait until tomorrow? I’ll be home late.”
Dad: “No. I need you home now. I’ve been waiting for you since school let out.”
Me: “Fine. On my way.”

That was the conversation that led to this moment. Me, sitting in
front of my dad on the couch. My dad, telling me something I don’t
care to hear.

“I would have told you sooner, Miles. I just—”
“Felt guilty?” I interrupt. “Like you’re doing something wrong?”
His eyes meet mine, and I begin to feel bad for saying what I said,
but I push the feeling down and keep going.
“She’s been dead less than a year.”
As soon as the words leave my mouth, I want to throw up.
He doesn’t like being judged, especially by me. He’s used to my

supporting his decisions. Hell, I’m used to supporting his decisions.

Until now, I always thought he made good ones.

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“Look, I know this is hard for you to accept, but I need your support.
You have no idea how hard it’s been for me to move on since she died.”

“Hard?” I’m standing. I’m raising my voice. I’m acting like I give a
shit for some reason, when I really don’t. I could care less that he’s
already dating again. He can see whoever he wants. He can screw
whoever he wants.

I think the only reason I’m reacting this way is because she can’t. It’s
hard to defend your marriage when you’re dead. That’s why I’m doing it
for her.

“It’s obviously not very hard for you at all, Dad.”
I walk to the opposite end of the living room.
I walk back.
The house is too damn small to fit all of my frustration and
disappointment.
I look at him again, recognizing that it’s not so much the fact that
he’s seeing someone already. It’s the look he gets in his eyes when he
talks about her that I hate. I never saw him look at my mother that way,
so whoever she is, I know it’s not a casual thing. She’s about to seep into
our lives, intertwining around and through and between my relationship
with my father like she’s poison ivy. It’ll no longer be just my father and

me. It’ll be me, my father, and Lisa. It doesn’t feel right, considering my

mother’s presence is still everywhere in this house.
He’s sitting with his hands folded in front of him, clasped together.

He’s looking down at the floor.
“I don’t know if this will go anywhere, but I want to give it a shot.

Lisa makes me happy. Sometimes moving on is  .  .  . the only way to
move on.”

I open my mouth to respond to him, but my words are cut off by the
doorbell. He looks up at me, hesitantly coming to a stand. He seems

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smaller. Less heroic.
“I’m not asking you to like her. I’m not asking you to spend time

with her. I just want you to be nice to her.” His eyes are pleading with
me, and it makes me feel guilty for being so resistant.

I nod. “I will, Dad. You know I will.”

He hugs me, and it feels good and bad. It doesn’t feel like I just

hugged the man I’ve had on a pedestal for seventeen years. It feels as
though I just hugged my peer.

He asks me to get the door while he heads back to the kitchen to
finish dinner, so I do. I close my eyes and let my mom know that I’m

going to be nice to Lisa, but she’ll always just be Lisa to me, no matter

what happens between her and Dad. I open the door.
“Miles?”
I look at her face, and it’s completely opposite from my mother’s face.

This makes me feel good. She’s a lot shorter than my mother. She’s not
as pretty as my mother, either. There’s nothing about her that can be
compared to my mother, so I don’t even try. I accept her for what she is:
our dinner guest.

I nod and open the door wider to let her in. “You must be Lisa. Good
to meet you.” I point behind me. “My father is in the kitchen.”

Lisa leans forward and gives me a hug—one that I successfully make
awkward after it takes me several seconds to hug her back.

My eyes meet the eyes of the girl standing behind her.
The eyes of the girl standing behind her meet mine.

You’re
gonna
fall
in

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love
with
me,
Rachel.

“Miles?” she says in a broken whisper.
Rachel sounds a little bit like her mother, but sadder.
Lisa looks back and forth between us. “You know each other?”

Rachel doesn’t nod.
Neither do I.

Our disappointment melts to the floor and combines in a puddle of
premature tears at our feet.
“He, um, . . . he . . .”

Rachel is stuttering, so I help her finish her words. “I go to school with
Rachel,” I blurt out. I regret saying that, because what I really want to

say is, Rachel is the next girl I’m gonna fall in love with.

I can’t say that, though, because it’s obvious what’s bound to happen.
Rachel isn’t the next girl I’ll fall in love with, because Rachel is the girl

who will more than likely become my new stepsister.
For the second time tonight, I feel sick.

Lisa smiles and clasps her hands together. “That’s great,” she says. “I’m
so relieved.”

My father walks into the room. He hugs Lisa. He says hi to Rachel and
tells her it’s good to see her again.
My father already knows Rachel.
Rachel already knows my father.
My father is Lisa’s new boyfriend.
My father visits Phoenix a lot.

My father has been visiting Phoenix a lot since before my mother died.

My father is a bastard.

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“Rachel and Miles already know each other,” Lisa says to my father.
He smiles, and relief floods his face. “Good. Good,” he says, repeating

the word twice as if it could make things better.
No.

Bad. Bad.
“That’ll make tonight a lot less awkward,” he says with a laugh.

I look back at Rachel.
Rachel looks at me.

I can’t fall in love with you, Rachel.

Her eyes are sad.
My thoughts are sadder.

And you can’t fall in love with me.

She slowly walks inside, avoiding my gaze as she watches her feet with
each step. They’re the saddest steps I’ve ever seen taken.
I close the door.
It’s the saddest door I’ve ever had to close.

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chapter five

TATE

“Are you off for Thanksgiving?” my mother asks.
I switch my cell to my other ear and pull the apartment key out of

my purse. “Yeah, but not Christmas. I only work weekends for now.”
“Good. Tell Corbin we’re not dead yet if he ever gets the urge to call

us.”
I laugh. “I’ll tell him. Love you.”
I hang up and put my cell phone into the pocket of my scrub top. It’s

only a part-time job, but it gets my foot in the door. Tonight was my last
night of training before I start weekend rotations tomorrow night.

I like the job so far, and I was honestly shocked to land it after my
first interview. It works out with my school schedule, too. I’m in school
every weekday, doing either clinical or classroom hours, then I work
second shift on the weekends over at the hospital. It’s been a seamless
transition up to this point.

I also like San Francisco. I know it’s only been two weeks, but I could
see myself staying here after graduation next spring rather than going
back to San Diego.

Corbin and I have even been getting along, although he’s gone more
than he’s home, so I’m sure that has everything to do with it.

I smile, finally feeling like I’ve found my place, and I open the door
to the apartment. My smile fades as soon as it meets the eyes of three

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other guys—only two of whom I recognize. Miles is standing in the
kitchen, and the married asshole from the elevator is sitting on the
couch.

Why the hell is Miles here?

Why the hell are any of them here?

I glare at Miles as I kick off my shoes and drop my purse on the
counter. Corbin isn’t due back for two more days, and I was looking
forward to the peace and quiet tonight so I could get some studying
done.

“It’s Thursday,” Miles says when he sees the scowl on my face, like
the day of the week is supposed to be some sort of explanation. He’s
watching me from his position in the kitchen. He can see I’m not happy.

“So it is,” I reply. “And tomorrow is Friday.” I turn to the other two
guys sitting on Corbin’s couch. “Why are you all in my apartment?”

The blond, lanky guy immediately stands up and walks over to me.
He extends his hand. “Tate?” he asks. “I’m Ian. I grew up with Miles.
I’m a friend of your brother’s.” He points to the elevator guy, who is still
seated on the couch. “This is Dillon.”

Dillon gives me a nod but doesn’t bother speaking. He doesn’t have
to. His shit-eating grin says enough about what he’s thinking right now.

Miles walks back into the living room and points to the television.
“This is kind of a thing we do some Thursdays if either of us is home.
Game night.”

I don’t care if it’s their thing. I have homework.

“Corbin isn’t even home tonight. Can’t you do this at your
apartment? I need to study.”

Miles hands Dillon a beer and then looks back at me. “I don’t have

cable.” Of course you don’t. “And Dillon’s wife doesn’t let us use his place.”
Of course she doesn’t.

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I roll my eyes and walk to my bedroom, slamming the door
unintentionally.

I change out of my scrubs and pull on a pair of jeans. I grab the shirt
I slept in last night and just get it over my head when someone knocks
on the door. I swing it open almost as dramatically as I slammed it
earlier.

He’s so tall.

I didn’t realize how tall he was, but now that he’s standing in my
doorway—filling it—he seems really tall. If he were to wrap his arms
around me right now, my ear would press against his heart. Then his
cheek would rest comfortably on top of my head.

If he were to kiss me, I’d have to tilt my face up to meet his, but it
would be nice, because he would probably wrap his arms around my
lower back and pull me to him so that our mouths would come together
like two pieces of a puzzle. Only they wouldn’t fit very well, because

they are most definitely not two pieces from the same puzzle.
Something strange is going on in my chest. A flutter, flutter kind of

thing. I hate it, because I know what it means. It means my body is
really starting to like Miles.

I just hope my brain never catches up.
“If you need quiet, you can go to my place,” he says.
I cringe at the way his offer works knots into my stomach. I shouldn’t
be excited about the possibility of being inside his apartment, but I am.
“We’ll probably be here another two hours,” he adds.
There’s regret in his voice somewhere. It would more than likely take
a search party to locate it, but it’s buried there somewhere, beneath all
the sultriness.
I expel a quick, relinquishing breath. I’m being a bitch. This isn’t

even my apartment. This is their thing that they obviously do on a

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regular basis, and who am I to think I can just move in and put a stop to
it?

“I’m just tired,” I say to him. “It’s fine. I’m sorry if I was rude to your
friends.”

“Friend,” he says as clarification. “Dillon is not my friend.”

I don’t ask him what he means by that. He glances into the living
room, then looks back at me. He leans against the frame of the door, an
indication that my relinquishing the apartment for their game wasn’t
the end of our conversation. He swings his eyes to the scrubs strewn
across my mattress. “You got a job?”

“Yeah,” I say, wondering why he’s suddenly up for conversation.
“Registered nurse in an ER.”

A crease appears on his forehead, and I can’t tell if it’s a result of
confusion or fascination. “Aren’t you still in nursing school? How can
you already work as an RN?”

“I’m getting my master’s in nursing so I can work as a CRNA. I
already have my RN license.”

His expression is obstinate, so I clarify.
“It allows me to administer anesthesia.”
He stares at me for a few seconds before standing up straight and
pushing off the doorframe. “Good for you,” he says.
There’s no smile, though.

Why doesn’t he ever smile?

He walks back to the living room. I step out of the doorway and
watch him. Miles takes his seat on the couch and gives the TV his full
attention.

Dillon is giving me his full attention, but I look away and head to the

kitchen to find something to eat. There isn’t much, considering I
haven’t cooked all week, so I grab all the stuff I need from the

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refrigerator in order to make a sandwich. When I turn around, Dillon is
still staring. Only now he’s staring from about a foot away, instead of all
the way from the living room.

He smiles, then steps forward and reaches into the refrigerator,
coming inches from my face. “So you’re Corbin’s little sis?”

I think I’m with Miles on this one. I don’t much like Dillon, either.

Dillon’s eyes aren’t anything like Miles’s eyes. When Miles looks at

me, his eyes hide everything. Dillon’s eyes don’t hide anything, and right

now, they’re clearly undressing me.
“Yes,” I say simply as I make my way around him. I walk to the pantry

and open it to look for the bread. Once I find it, I set it on the bar and
begin making my sandwich. I lay out bread for an extra sandwich to take
to Cap. He’s kind of grown on me in the little time I’ve lived here. I
found out he works up to fourteen hours a day sometimes but only
because he lives in the building alone and doesn’t have anything better
to do. He seems to appreciate my company and especially gifts in the
form of food, so until I make more friends here, I guess I’ll be spending
my downtime with an eighty-year-old.

Dillon casually leans against the counter. “You a nurse or
something?” He opens his beer and brings it to his mouth but pauses
before taking a drink. He wants me to answer him first.

“Yep,” I say with a clipped voice.
He smiles and takes a swig of his beer. I continue making my
sandwiches, intentionally trying to appear closed off, but Dillon doesn’t
seem to take the hint. He just continues to stare at me until my
sandwiches are made.
I’m not offering to make him a damn sandwich if that’s why he’s still
here.

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“I’m a pilot,” he says. He doesn’t say it in a smug way, but when no
one’s asking you what your occupation is, voluntarily contributing it to
the conversation naturally comes off as smug. “I work at the same
airline as Corbin.”

He’s staring at me, waiting for me to be impressed by the fact that
he’s a pilot. What he doesn’t realize is that all the men in my life are
pilots. My grandfather was a pilot. My father was a pilot until he retired
a few months ago. My brother is a pilot.

“Dillon, if you’re trying to impress me, you’re going about it the
wrong way. I much prefer a guy with a little more modesty and a lot less

wife.” My eyes flash down to the wedding ring on his left hand.

“Game just started,” Miles says, walking into the kitchen, directing
his words toward Dillon. His words might be innocuous, but his eyes
are definitely telling Dillon that he needs to return to the living room.

Dillon sighs as if Miles just stripped away all his fun. “It’s good to see
you again, Tate,” he says, acting as if the conversation would have come
to an end whether Miles decided it should or not. “You should join us in
the living room.” His eyes scroll over Miles, even though he’s speaking
to me. “Apparently, the game just started.” Dillon straightens up and
shoulders past Miles, heading back into the living room.

Miles ignores Dillon’s display of annoyance and slides his hand into
his back pocket, pulling out a key. He hands it to me. “Go study at my
place.”

It’s not a request.
It’s a demand.
“I’m fine studying here.” I set the key on the counter and put the lid
back on the mayonnaise, refusing to be displaced from my own
apartment by three boys. I wrap both sandwiches in a paper towel. “The
TV isn’t even that loud.”

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He takes a step forward until he’s close enough to whisper. I’m pretty
sure I’m leaving finger indentations on the bread, considering every
single part of me, right down to my toes, just tensed.

“I’m not fine with you studying here. Not until everyone leaves. Go.

Take your sandwiches with you.”
I look down at my sandwiches. I don’t know why I feel like he just

insulted them. “They aren’t both for me,” I say defensively. “I’m taking
one to Cap.”

I look back up at him, and he’s doing that unfathomable staring thing
again. With eyes like his, that should be illegal. I raise my eyebrows
expectantly, because he’s making me feel really awkward. I’m not an
exhibit, yet the way he watches me makes me feel like one.

“You made a sandwich for Cap?”
I nod. “Food makes him happy,” I say with a shrug.
He studies the exhibit a little longer before leaning into me again.
He grabs the key off the bar behind me and slides it into my front
pocket.
I’m not even sure if his fingers touched my jeans, but I inhale sharply

and look down at my pocket as his hand pulls away, because holy hell, I

wasn’t expecting that.
I’m frozen while he’s casually making his way back into the living

room, unaffected. It feels like my pocket is on fire.
I persuade my feet to move, needing some time to process all of that.

After delivering Cap’s sandwich, I do as Miles says and head over to his
apartment. I go on my own accord, not because he wants me over there

and not because I really do have a lot of homework but because the

thought of being inside his apartment without him there is sadistically
exciting to me. I feel like I’ve just been handed a free pass to all his
secrets.

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•••

I should have known better than to think his apartment would give me
any sort of glimpse into who he is. Not even his eyes can do that.

Sure, it really is a lot quieter over here, and yeah, I’ve finished two
solid hours of homework, but that’s only because there aren’t any
distractions.

At all.

No paintings on the sterile white walls. No decorations. No color
whatsoever. Even the solid oak table dividing the kitchen from the
living room is undecorated. It’s so unlike the home I grew up in, where
the kitchen table was the focal point of my mother’s entire house,
complete with a table runner, an elaborate overhead chandelier, and
plates to match whatever the current season was.

Miles doesn’t even have a fruit bowl.
The only impressive thing about this apartment is the bookshelf in
the living room. It’s lined with dozens of books, which is more of a turn-
on to me than anything else that could potentially line his barren walls.
I walk over to the bookshelf to inspect his selection, hoping to get a
glimpse of him based on his choice of literature.
Row after row of aeronautical themed books is all I find.
I’m a little disappointed that after a free inspection of his apartment,
the best I can conclude is that he might be a workaholic with little to no
taste in décor.
I give up on the living room and walk into the kitchen. I open the
refrigerator, but there’s hardly anything in it. There are a few takeout
boxes. Condiments. Orange juice. It resembles Corbin’s refrigerator—
empty and sad and so very bachelor.
I open a cabinet, grab a cup, then pour myself some juice. I drink it
and rinse the cup out in the sink. There are a few other dishes piled up

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